Why Consistency Is the Single Most Important Thing for Reaching Your Health Goals
Putting your routine on repeat boosts motivation—but spontaneity is also key. Here's the right mix for max results and zero boredom.
Consistency is one of the most powerful tools you have. "Your brain actually craves it," says Andrew Deutscher, managing director of the Energy Project, a performance-improvement consulting and research firm. Consistency not only powers you through the day-to-day so you can reach goals but also makes tough routines automatic, so you'll stay motivated.
But consistency alone gets dull. Spur-of-the-moment experiences add novelty and keep you engaged. They tap into your brain's reward center, studies show, providing hits of pleasure. As a result, you feel invigorated and inspired.
The question, then, is how can you stay consistent while at the same time unconstrained? There is a way, and it's key to your success. These techniques will help you strike a balance between steady and ready for anything.
1. Dig deep.
You have to start with a solid base of consistency before you add spontaneity to the mix. To make those healthy behaviors stick, identify a higher purpose for them-something that will give you the psychological push you need to follow through. Say you're trying to work out at 6 a.m. three days a week. Make a list of meaningful reasons for why you need to get going, suggests Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It. To come up with them, consider this: How will your routine enhance your life? For instance, if spending more time with friends is important to you, a morning exercise routine can free up your evenings for get-togethers. Then when your mind starts to think of excuses, you'll have a ready retort that will help propel you forward. (Use a "cyclical mindset" to make reaching goals simpler.)
2. Find your wiggle room.
Once you've gotten into a groove with your routine, allow yourself to deviate from it. Otherwise, without any flexibility, the smallest disruption can feel like failure. Giving yourself some room to play increases your dedication overall, the Journal of Consumer Psychology reports. So plan ahead. "Expect that things will spontaneously happen to change your schedule," says Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project. "Devise a strategy to accommodate them." Having a plan B for when last-minute dinner invites throw off your eating routine (such as deciding to treat the dinner out as a reward and eating a light, healthy breakfast the next morning) lets you embrace the interruptions and see them as happy surprises. (Follow these tips to stay consistent but avoid a workout rut.)
3. Know when to call it.
Consistency can make challenging routines almost mindless. That's a good thing, but it can also commit you to a formula you've outgrown. So enjoy the comfort of a routine, yes, but keep an eye on your results so you know when you need to make changes. Check in with yourself about once a month, Deutscher says. Think about what progress you've made recently and what your next steps should be. "If you find that the benefits you get from your routine are fading, tweak or refine it," he suggests.
That could mean doing something totally different (boxing instead of running) or just stepping up your existing plan (going from a plant-filled diet to a fully vegetarian one) to keep growing and achieving. (Related: Why Jen Widerstrom Thinks You Should Say Yes to Something You'd Never Do)